Sunday, October 7, 2012

Follow Up... WAY Up!

   Everybody has had the experience: "D'oh!  I forgot to follow up on that, and now the opportunity is gone!"  Whether the opportunity is for a job, a client, a lover, or whatever, you need to get back to them.  And yet, being merely human, we forget.

  This is one of those areas where being an absolute geek can really help.  No, it won't help you figure out what to say to them, but it can help you remember to do it at all.  How?

   The basic concept is very much like a "tickler file".  (I'll wait while you go look at that article, if you're not familiar with them already.)  The geeky twist I add, is that I don't file an actual physical document, just a reference in a spreadsheet.

   Yes, a spreadsheet.  They're not just for suits and green-eyeshades.  They're a great way to organize any kind of information that you just need to record a few brief pieces of information about, and may need to sort in various ways.

   Let's look at a small simulated excerpt from my client-hunting spreadsheet, which originally started as a job-hunting spreadsheet.  (The company names have of course been changed.  The dates are in YYYY-MM-DD format, aka ISO 8601, so that even if they're not in a "real" spreadsheet program, but rather a plain text file, they'll still sort in the right order.)

Company Status Last Contact Followup On
Fubar Heavy Industries Inc. CALL THEM ASAP 2012-10-04 2012-10-08
Conceptual Concepts Ltd. waiting for NDA 2012-10-03 2012-10-10
Widgets R Us I emailed them 2012-09-28 2012-10-12

   So tomorrow morning, I should call Fubar Heavy Industries, as we arranged on Friday.  Suppose the result of that call is, "we'll give you a decision within two weeks".  Then the 10-08 becomes 10-22... and I sort the sheet on the "Followup On" column again.

   Next up would be Conceptual Concepts Ltd.  I'm waiting for them to send me an NDA.  They said on last Thursday afternoon that they would do it, but as of Sunday I haven't seen it yet.  If they still haven't sent me the NDA by this Thursday, I'll send a reminder... and add another week to the "Followup On" column, and sort again.

   After that would be Widgets R Us.  I emailed them the week before last, in response to an ad on a job board that said they were looking for contractors.  If they don't get back to me within two weeks, I will send a note... and add another two, or maybe three weeks to their followup date.  If that one comes and goes with no response, I'll probably just delete their row.  If they then contact me later, I've still got the other information.

   Other information?  Not in the spreadsheet?  Where am I keeping track of that?  I have another column (not shown) for brief notes, but there's a lot more information than can fit there.

   You're going to get an extra-special bonus on how I keep my stuff organized!  If you are a potential client/employer and call me, I'll probably ask you to wait a moment as I pull up your file.  Yes, I keep a file, or possibly several files, on each potential, current, or past client.  Many have been surprised (pleasantly, I hope!) that I'm so organized.

   In my work directory is a directory with (at least) a text file for each one, such as ~/work/clients/WidgetsRUs.txt.  This contains copies of all correspondence, notes, etc.  If I need to store additional files, such as NDAs, I create a directory for that, such as ~/work/clients/WidgetsRUs_files.  In there I store files like ~/work/clients/WidgetsRUs_files/Aronson-NDA-Signed.pdf.

   As yet another bonus tip for you: note how the filename contains my own name... for the client's convenience.  My own convenience in organizing, is served by the directory structure.

   So now, as always, it's your turn.  How do you keep track of stuff you need to do all the time?  Do you use a to-do list application, something more specialized, reminders on your calendar, a text file, or what?  What problems or unexpected benefits have you encountered?